Thursday

People Are Worth More Than Stuff


 


I like stuff.

I didn't have a lot of stuff growing up. Oh, I always had shoes on my feet and a coat to wear and new underwear every Christmas. We got presents for birthdays and we had toys and games and bikes.

But we didn't have a lot of stuff.

My parents were good, solid working class people who scrimped and saved and pinched pennies to send three of us to Catholic schools for 12 years each. What they saved in buying us clothes, they spent in tuition and tithing to the church.

There wasn't a lot left over for new outfits for picture day or doughnuts after swimming lessons. Occasionally, I could talk my mom into a few extra cents on top of the grocery bill for a Little Golden Book. I loved those books, and read each one til they were worn.

Vintage Little Golden Book Photo: Fr The Collection Of Bob Bragman
source


I'm certain my mom still has those books because she likes stuff, too.

In fact, my dad, brother, sister, and I tease her quite a bit and quite often about all the stuff she saves. I won't list it all here. I wouldn't want you to think she is going to show up on the next episode of Hoarders or anything (close maybe . . .JUST KIDDING, MOM!!).

The thing is, I totally get it. I totally understand why she saves 99% of what she saves. It's not for materialistic reasons; rather, for purely sentimental reasons.
 
Ask her about any item in her house, and she will tell you exactly from where or whom it came or under what circumstance it was acquired.
 
It could have been given to her by a co-worker two jobs ago, someone who meant a lot to her. Or it could have been given to her for a wedding or birthday gift and she remembers exactly who gifted it to her.
 
And some stuff she saves just because she thinks she can use it someday or make something of it. That part comes from growing up in the 40's and 50's on a farm. She and my dad are the same. You use everything and you fix it when it is broken.
 
In many ways, I am similar to my mother. I save things because they mean something to me. No, I may not remember from whom every one of my wedding presents came, but I do remember which of my sons made or wore or used a certain art project, an outfit or a toy. It's tough for me to part with cards that Hubby has given me over the years or knick knacks or decorations that were a part of our first home.
 
They just bring back memories I fear I will lose if the stuff is no longer here.
 
I have about three or four totes full of Joey's stuff. Clothes he wore, toys he loved, pictures he made, papers with his handwriting, even his kindergarten lunch box and backpack. I will never get rid of them. And no, I have not opened those totes since I put them away two and a half years ago.
 
Some stuff means something to me because I bought them myself with my own money from my first real job. Some stuff means a lot to me because they were an amazing deal, they were a favorite outfit, or just because it was something I really wanted that I got to have.
 
I am lucky to be married to a very generous husband who has never (really) questioned my spending habits. Perhaps it is because I still maintain a level of frugality, using coupons and buying things on sale, despite my penchant for being a sucker when the boys ask for things in the store.  Want a small toy - sure, it's small, here you go! Want a new DVD - sure, I like movies, too, here you go!
 
As of late, though, with the economy tanking and our boys getting older and looking to the future of high school and college and cars and sports and all the food four growing boys eat and everything 6 people will need, we are re-budgeting and being a bit more frugal.
 
Which means I need to stop buying so much stuff. Because honestly, we have too much stuff.
 
And that's fine, because I look around our world and I see how disposable everything is - Happy Meal toys and $5 t-shirts at Old Navy and quick boxed meals, and sometimes I feel really sad that we are both teaching our kids to waste and perhaps ruining the Earth for their future by junking it up with stuff.
 
People don't think like our parents' generation anymore. Use and fix what you have. Or recycle it and let someone else use it.
 
I think if we had less stuff, we'd have better relationships with people. Look at people waiting anywhere. What are they doing? Playing with their stuff - IPhones and IPads and Kindles and video games. No one is sharing polite conversation anymore. I met the nicest people over the Pacific Ocean on the way to Hawaii when we were not allowed to use our stuff. We actually talked. It was nice.
 
I remember when we lived on Long Island for that brief time Hubby was in residency. We had small children and not a lot of stuff. Life seemed really easy back then. A couple baskets of toys and books and two DVDs - Baby Einstein and Thomas the Train. It was simple and easy.
 
Slim had biweekly visits from an early childhood speech-language therapist who was soooo Long Island (people who live there will understand what I am saying). She was never afraid to say what she was thinking.
 
During one session, Baby Knox crawled over and pulled my holiday sign off the door, breaking it beyond repair. I scolded him; and the therapist, Debbie, said, "Oh, it's just a thing. He's a person. People mean more than things anyway."
 
I didn't think much of it at the time, because we didn't have a lot of things, and I liked my things. And, I guess was immature and didn't really "get it."
 
The other night after dinner, we were all helping clean the kitchen. We were being a little silly, too, to make it more fun.
 
Suddenly, I heard a crash come from the hallway, and Slim emerged into the kitchen carrying the long rectangular cushion from the front window seat.
 
"I'm sorry, Mom, I'm sorry. Are you mad at me? Are you never going to forgive me?" Tears were welling in his eyes.
 
He had broken a holiday vase that had been sitting on the table in the hall. It was something I had acquired at his school's fundraiser the year I worked on the holiday committee. As we were setting up that room for auction, I spied this little item, this fancy holiday centerpiece. I had never had anything like it, and I was smitten. I bid on it until it was mine, and I have been proudly putting it out every year.
 
And now it lay on the floor smashed to bits.
 
Hubby rushed over to comfort Slim, "It's okay, it was an accident. You didn't mean it. RIGHT, Mommy?"
 
My initial reaction when something like this happens is to freak out - yes, I freak out when stuff gets broken. But seeing the tears and worry in Slim's eyes melted me. I saw myself.
 
I used to hide when I thought I had broken something when I was little. I used to think my parents would get so mad at me, that I would get yelled at and spanked.
 
Nope, I never did. Because it turned out they could probably fix it anyway. And if they couldn't, they never berated me for being "bad." Even though they didn't have a lot of stuff, our parents loved us more than the stuff they had.
 
I knelt down in front of Slim. "It's okay, Sweetie," I began, "yes, I am upset that it's broken because I liked it, and you made a careless choice." More tears. "BUT, it is just a thing and you are a person and I love you more than I love a thing."
 
We hugged it out, and he asked me one more time if I was mad. Hubby, of course, had to pipe in with, "Well, Christmas has been over for a long time anyway." (In my defense, the vase had pine needles and was more brown and green wintry than red and Christmasy anyway!)
 
So, yeah, the hallway looks pretty bare now, but you know what? Without all that stuff on my table, I can see what really matters - the faces of my beautiful family.






Besides, it's time to put out the Easter stuff anyway. And if that gets broken - eh, I'll be a little upset. But, I will remember that at least I have people around me who break stuff rather than living a life alone with nothing BUT stuff.
 
And I'll take a broken-stuff, people-filled life over that any day.

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